Monday, November 30, 2009


There was sun on Friday, rain on Saturday, and thick clouds throughout Sunday. It should have been a letdown to go from clear to grey weather, but it struck me that colour sometimes emerges when least expected.

On Friday..

There were only a few minutes in the day for picture taking, but they were good ones. Sumac berries caught the sun along the riverside path in North Vancouver.
The ducks, geese and shore birds were very active. I happened to catch this bird flying towards me, but had no idea what it was at first. After cropping the picture to bring it closer, the stripes made the bird look like a giant bumble bee, and the sun glare across its eyes formed a silver mask. I'm thinking now the two dark stripes may be a clue that it was a Killdeer.
One Blue Heron made an appearance.

On Saturday..

Bill, Black Jack and I attended a seminar in Squamish about Bald Eagles. The steady rain should have been truly dismal, and I guess it was, but I was happy, and the day was coloured by a feeling of contentment as we drove along the Sea to Sky Highway, listened to the speakers, watched the slide shows, and finally spent time watching the eagles.

Bill was, as always, fun to be with, Black Jack was allowed to sit on my lap in the beautiful theatre at the Adventure Centre in Squamish, and the speakers were passionate about all things nature-related, and especially about their beloved eagles.

I (we) signed up for three sessions of eagle counting, the first two next weekend. I can hardly wait!

In the mean time, here are my very poor pictures, taken as we stood under a shelter by the eagle viewing dyke. The forecast for next weekend is sun, and I'm hoping to get some better photos then.

While I took pictures, Bill walked in the rain with Black Jack. So many things to appreciate about you, Bill. Thank you for another wonderful weekend!
This dog, named Spring, led us to a fascinating conversation with his human, Mark. Spring's father was a timber wolf, and his mother was an Alaskan Malamute. What a beautiful and very sweet-natured dog.
Mark spends many hours in the mountains, collecting all kinds of berries to make the most amazing organic products. He had stories of close encounters with a Silver-backed Grizzly as well as a cougar.
We sampled a pure berry kind of liqueur that was out of this world, and left with some jam, some honey and a berry nectar. If you ever decide to visit Squamish, I highly recommend looking up Mark and Spring. Make sure to ask about those wildlife encounters as well as the products.
The view across the river was many-layered, and stunning, even through the rain and mist.
I've encountered coyotes before, but this is my very first photograph of one. It was on the other side of the river, so quite a distance off, luckily for Black Jack.

On Sunday..

it seemed there was colour everywhere, as Black Jack and I did our morning walk at Jericho.

I'm fairly certain this is an American Wigeon male.
The wigeon couple are being watched by a female mallard.
The male again, with fanned feathers.
We met Roxanne with Merry Lou, in almost the same spot as a couple of weeks ago.
I was struck once more with Merry Lou's gentle nature.
Just a sweetheart!
I'm sorry this photo is not clear enough to positively identify the little bird, but again, the surrounding colours took the grey right out of the weather.
Black Jack's favorite part of the walk is at the far end of the park by the rabbit bushes. Somehow, I don't think colour was the first thing on her mind.
Perhaps a Goshawk? That's what a lady passing by thought it was, but again,the photo is not clear enough to make a positive identification. I had to remind myself that seeing it was a gift, and try not to feel too frustrated, as it flew right in front of me at about waist height, obviously looking for a rabbit meal. I know it has to eat, but I'm very grateful that it didn't catch anything while I watched. The colour patterns in its spread-out wings flashed by very quickly, and I wanted so much to slow down its flight and take a better look.
My eyes tend to scan the trees as I walk at Jericho. Black Jack saw this squirrel on the ground before I did. It escaped up the tree, framed by splashes of colour.
On Sunday afternoon, Bill drove me to Broadway Camera, where we met our friends, Jock and Kitty. We all enjoyed Henry Wong, a passionate photographer first, and a salesman second. I bought a new lens, and hope to practice using it this week. Perhaps, I will be able to bring the wildlife just a bit closer to you in next weekend's post.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A little sun on Thursday

It feels like the rain has been coming down for a long time. Not the best for bike commutes, but then again, much better than ice or snow, so I try to appreciate it. Still, when the sun peeked timidly through the clouds yesterday, I took the time for a quick walk between classes. Here is what I saw.

First, I think, a Common Merganser, although it didn't seem to have that characteristic "Woody Woodpecker" look that I have come to expect. It was doing a very energetic bath dance, and I was convinced it was celebrating the light, if not brilliant sun.
Then, sitting ever so quietly in the tree, was what I think may be a Varied Thrush. If I was correct, then it was a first sighting, and oh my, what gorgeous colours! I played with both autofocus and manual on my camera, but still find it a huge challenge to get reasonable photos when there are branches jumping into the focus queue, iffy light, and the imminent possibility that the bird will fly off. Here are my two best results, but both had to be photoshopped to add light.

I'm not sure why, but these three mergansers (?) reminded me of the men who used to sit on tree stumps in front of my father's garage on good-weather days, way back in the early 1950's.
A bit further along the path, was a robin. A man was walking by with his little dog, and saw me taking me pictures. "What do you have there?" he asked, and at that point, I was thinking I had a Towhee. On looking at the picture later, I realized the broken ring around the eye was the robin clue. Funny how a bird I thought I knew is sometimes challenging to identify. Walking along the path, the man talked about birds and photography, and the conversation added to the pleasure of that first fair-weather walk in some time.
Turning back towards school, I enjoyed watching two border collies meet and greet a third one. They seemed to be exchanging "It's a good day" comments, combined perhaps with just a touch of, "I have the ball and you don't."

Instead of going into the school, I continued just a bit further, to check out the harbour view. Seagulls were lined up beside the abandoned (temporarily, I hope) osprey nest.
On the rocks by the lookout, a mystery bird let me come quite close. I'm going with Hermit Thrush, but that's just a guess. I've put several views here, in the hope that you may correct me if I'm wrong. Again, if I identified correctly, a first sighting. Lovely little bird!

A couple of sky views to conclude the walk. No, not bright sun, but still, much appreciated light behind those clouds.
No rain, a little sun, a pleasant conversation, and some new birds. A great day!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Learning about Pigs

Bill and I spent several hours on Sunday at the Hearts on Noses pig sanctuary. We were a very tiny part of an incredible team of volunteers helping Janice, the director of the rescue, move her operation to a new site. She wasn't moving far, but as you may see from this post, it was just one step in a month-long, and huge undertaking.

First, this photo of a plastic pig on the bench in front of Janice's new home, because it makes me smile. But, don't let it mislead you. This image does not represent the reality for most pigs.
I am disappointed with my pictures, but didn't dare take out my new camera, as the rain kept up a steady drizzle all day. What I can show you is just the tip of the iceberg, in relaying the enormous expense and coordination necessary to plan this move. Here, a truck with crane is preparing to hoist one of the pig shelters up and over some very tall trees, and into the pen.
The first pigs to be moved are known as the super-wee's. There are 12 of them - Scotch and Soda, the parents, and ten offspring. I first learned about them when I discovered a blog called "My Life with the Critters." Jean, a very entertaining blog writer whom I finally met on Sunday, had agreed to foster Scotch and Soda. Shortly after they moved to her property, Soda gave birth. No one had realized she was pregnant. Although Jean knew that she would be moving at some point, and that she couldn't care for the pigs permanently, she agreed to foster the parents and offspring until she retired and found a new place to live. When that happened, a year or so later, all of the pigs moved to Janice's, at Hearts on Noses. If you go back in Jean's blog, you can see pictures of the super wee's, and find lots of stories and photos about their time with Jean. This link will take you to her first visit to see them after their move to Janice's.

The challenge on Sunday was to get the super wee's into the truck, put up a barrier in the van, and then load the two farm pigs. This was well described in Janice's blog post. I have known for a long time that pigs are very intelligent, but learned from Janice's sister that those who have developed a scale of intelligence believe pigs are 4th, with humans first, primates second, and whales and dolphins third. There were, I think, six of us holding large sheets of plywood together, and moving up behind the pigs, so that they couldn't turn back, once en route to the van. As one person was told, "Don't let even a crack of space open up between yours and the next sheet of plywood. He's watching you, and thinks you're the weak link." Phew! I held my corner with absolute concentration. No way did I want to appear as a weak link in the operation. The two farm pigs are much, much larger, but also more placid, and less stressful to move. The one concern was that one of the farm pigs had had her hip broken when she was young, and it was important for her to be carefully braced, once in the truck. Janice, who loves each and every one of her animals to the point of motherly passion, was barely able to contain her worry, and even her sister said, "I can't watch," as the enormous van was successfully backed out of a narrow driveway and onto a busy road, by an impressive, young woman driver.

With the van on the way to the new site, I took a few minutes to visit those pigs not being moved until next weekend. I learned that pigs operate in herds. It is important to be very careful to keep herds separated, and to understand which pigs can get along together. Putting two incompatible pigs together is extremely dangerous. This pig was watching all the commotion on Sunday. Check out the tusks. They have to be kept trimmed, and this is not something the pigs enjoy. Just a few of the many things I learned on Sunday.
Once, in the 1980's, when I was teaching in Nova Scotia, the vice-principal of my school had a staff party at his house. He ran a small farm, as well as doing his education gig, and the evening of the party, his pigs got loose. We were all trying to help him round them up, although I also remember that my effort was half-hearted at best, as those pigs were not pets. That is the only time I have been within touching distance of a pig. I realized on Sunday that I had no idea how their fur? bristles? felt.

This is Norman. I was taking his picture, and he was so communicative, I wanted to pet him. Wow! Very bristly. I scratched him behind the ears, but couldn't tell whether he enjoyed that, or was just tolerating it. Whatever his reaction, that small interaction had me hooked. I will always feel a connection to Norman, and will be thinking of him when he is finally loaded into the trailer to move to his new home.
A closer shot of Norman. I considered brushing off the hay, in the hopes of finding his eyes, but didn't want to increase his stress. I haven't learned to distinguish emotions in pigs, but my impression was that he was curious about the camera, wondering when he might be fed some treats, and not too stressed. Just a guess, though, and I was playing it safe.
I didn't get the names of these three, but was fairly happy to catch a side, front and rear view.
After the van was on the way, Bill and I followed Jean to the new site, where fences were being built, in preparation for all of the animals.

This is Lacey (left) and Dior. They are also Hearts on Noses residents, and were moved on Saturday. They, along with Jean, were the first to spend the night at the new site.
A couple of closer shots of the very friendly Dior.

Lacey seemed to be a little bit more stressed, but on the whole, I thought both horses were adapting well to their new home, and to all of the commotion around them.
Another view of piggy houses about to be lifted over the trees.
Here, you can see some of the many pens and the fencing necessary to keep the herds separated. If you look very carefully (you may want to click on the picture to enlarge it), you will see a ladder. At the foot of the ladder stands a young man. I have forgotten his name, but his father, Steve, is in the tree, having climbed above ladder's height.
Here is a closer shot of Steve. What a remarkable fellow he is. I slowly figured out that I have come across Steve before. He does a lot of work for Carol at SAINTS, a rescue for unwanted senior animals of many breeds and descriptions. I often read Carol's blog, and had noticed comments from Steve, usually added to reassure or comfort Carol during times of sadness and stress. As anyone who has ever had a senior pet knows, along with the many joys come health concerns and the knowledge that every moment with them is precious. Multiply these emotional factors with the huge number of animals that Carol and her staff care for, and the value of a compassionate, multi-talented fellow like Steve becomes very obvious. Seeing him in that tree was another of Janice's "I can't look" moments!
More views of fencing, some completed, and lots more in the process. Janice works out a system where, herd by herd, the pigs are allowed out of their pens for a free roam around the entire property. They even come in her house, via a specially built ramp!
I thought I had a picture of a house coming over the trees, but what I actually captured was some of the support structures being lifted over first.
Steve, again, with the crane in the background, and his handiwork all around him.
A couple of truck shots, because I find them fascinating.

Bill and I couldn't stay to see the super wee's established in their new home. Black Jack had been waiting in Bill's truck, and I felt she needed some run time. No way we could have her around, with so much activity, and so we reluctantly left. I am so sorry I didn't get more pictures, but hope that this will give you a bit of an idea of the enormity of any kind of animal rescue. Rewarding? Absolutely, but what a huge responsibility! Thank you, Janice, for the wonderful life you give these pigs and all of your charges. You have a heart of gold, and my hat is off to you, and to all of those who regularly help you out. If anyone reads this, and is available next weekend, please don't hesitate to volunteer your services. This move is far from over, and every bit of help, no matter how small, is very much appreciated.

Here is Bill, trying to follow Black Jack around, as she explores the riverside near Janice's place. My hat is off to him as well. Thank you, Bill, for driving us to Maple Ridge, and for just being your sweet, helpful, good self!
A shot of the river, with Black Jack somewhere on the rocks below, and Bill's hand keeping a tight grip on the long leash.
And, one final shot of a beautiful tree branch. That was our day in Maple Ridge. A wonderful one, with what I call "salt of the earth" people. Do check out that link to Janice's blog for more about the move and her rescue operation.